Breastfeeding: good for the mama, good for the child!
Education and support key in stepping up for breastfeeding
2 August 2022, Aleppo, Syria – I recall seeing 11-month-old Ali* and his mother. Baby Ali was severely malnourished, and he appeared to have very thin skin covering his tiny bones. His mother, the only breadwinner for nine children, had to work long hours in a farm to earn their living. She did not have enough time or energy to breastfeed him. So little Ali, the youngest, stayed at home with his older siblings who looked after him.
Like many other mothers, Ali’s mother was reminded of the importance of breastfeeding after benefitting from consultations of a UNICEF -supported infant and young child feeding programme. Breastfeeding is a protective shield for the child against diseases and death. Breastfeeding increases children’s immunity, protects them from diarrhea and other infections and improves their cognitive development, allowing them to reach their potential.
The first 1000 days in the life of a child are our window of opportunity. Between a woman’s pregnancy and her child’s second birthday exists a critical period for building the foundations of a child’s optimum health and development. Breastfeeding is a safe and accessible source of quality nutrition that is essential during that time.
In Aleppo, like other areas in Syria, many women do not breastfeed exclusively. The ongoing conflict, deepening economic crisis, and COVID-19, have left Syrian mothers grappling to make ends meet. Many are forced to deprioritize children’s nutrition. UNICEF is here to help, and we need to continue to work together to protect, promote and support breastfeeding.
To the great Syrian mothers, I would say: breastfeeding will strengthen both yours and your baby’s health. Not only will your baby grow up healthier, but there is also evidence that breastfeeding relieves stress and contributes to protecting you from breast and ovarian cancers.
This year, UNICEF in Syria has reached more than 500,000 caregivers, including pregnant and lactating women, with counselling and awareness raising on appropriate infant and young child feeding practices. The contributions from the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, Polish National Committee for UNICEF, Syria Humanitarian Fund and UNICEF’s Global Nutrition Thematic Fund made this possible.
* Child’s name was changed to protect his privacy
**Esraa Alkhalaf is a Health and Nutrition Officer with UNICEF Syria in Aleppo